Local disabled photographer overcomes adversity after fire destroys work

Lily Bandak's newly-found photos to go on exhibit

SAN DIEGO - After a house fire in San Carlos destroyed her life's work, a renowned photographer who is paralyzed from the neck down is overcoming adversity again.

Lily Bandak did not think she would ever see any of her original photos again. Last March, a fast-moving fire ravaged her home in San Carlos. Good Samaritans carried her out a window but the photographer lost thousands of negatives, her life's work. It left her devastated for months.

"I see if I sit there and feel sorry for myself, nothing gets accomplished," she said.

So, Bandak decided to act. She found out that a professor friend in Delaware still had about 40 of her photos on a CD and a hard drive.  She said she could not believe it.

"Oh gosh, I was so unbelievably happy," said Bandak.

Bandak was the personal photographer for the Queen of Jordan and Yasser Arafat. She is the only Arab-American woman with work in the White House permanent collection.

In 1984, multiple sclerosis put her in a wheelchair, but she could still use her hands to mount the camera and take pictures. That began to change in 2005.

"At this time, I can't move a finger," she said. "I can't move anything."

But that did not stop her, thanks to assistive technology. She uses a mouth-operated device called a jouse and by moving it and blowing into it, she can use a computer.

She said the fire taught her to safeguard her work and about the kindness of strangers who saved her.

"I learned that there are so many good-hearted people in this world," said Bandak. "I want to say thank you, but thank you is not enough."

Her photos are now going on exhibit and she says she will work again. She can still take breathtaking photos with a little help.

"If you have a will there's a way," she said. "Even though they don't have the technology to push the button, I'm taking somebody with me to push the button."

The exhibit starts Tuesday evening and goes for four days at an assistive technology conference at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.  Fans from all over the world are expected to attend.

You can download free passes for free admission to the conference, which runs until Friday. Click here for more information.

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